Prompt: Ken Armstrong, Mike Sager, John McPhee, Gay Talese and Daniel James Brown are not “traditional” sports writers. What is it about sports writing that attracts such a variety of writers to the subject?
The reason that sports writing is so attractive to people is because there is not one specific way to do it. In the prompt, it labels Armstrong, Sager, Talese, Brown and McPhee as non-traditional, but I don’t really think there is a traditional way to write about sports. Sure, there are writers that choose only to write about the game taking place and the simple things of sports. There are also guys, like the authors listed above, that like to take it a step further and dissect everything about a sport, or just like to write about sports in a funny way.
The beauty of writing about sports is that there is always going to be a story to tell. There is a story for every player on every team and every ballpark, stadium or field. There are fans at every sporting event that can have something written about them. Writers can write about the different foods at each sporting event or the different interactions that they have had at stadiums all across the world. The sports journalism world is wide open to anything that people want to write about relating to sports.
Some of my favorite sports journalists come from Barstool Sports. Not only can they offer insightful opinions, but they also make things funny. There is a podcast called Pardon My Take in which the hosts, Dan Katz and Wayne Tables, interview athletes and sports personalities and ask them questions that the mainstream media often would not. For example, they had Kyle Schwarber of the Chicago Cubs on as a guest and asked him how many beers he could drink during a 7-inning co-ed softball league game. That’s not a typical question that Kyle Schwarber would be asked, but Pardon My Take is still a wildly successful sports podcast and they credit their loose and fun style of journalism for their success.
In “Levels of the Game” John McPhee focuses on one sporting event, but he delves into the lives and pasts of the two men participating in the match while also reporting on the match itself. McPhee took his own route in trying to create a story and it worked for him. On the flip side, Sally Jenkins pretty much told the history of the Carlisle Indian School and the Native Americans that played for their team. This was a little different because she was not focusing on one point in time or any specific main characters, but she was able to create a story that worked for her. These are two different styles to create a story, but because sports journalism is fluid in style, both styles are effective.
Any other type of writing compared to sports writing is almost like walking into a shoe store that offers only one type of shoe and having one right next to it with every shoe in the world. Why wouldn’t you choose the store with more options? If something like sports writing is going to allow different people to express themselves in their own way, more people are going to be attracted to it.